89th American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting

Tuesday, 13 January 2009: 11:00 AM
Engaging Students with Disabilities in the atmospheric Science—Lessons learned from hosting Students with Disabilities in SOARS
Room 125B (Phoenix Convention Center)
Rebecca Haacker-Santos, UCAR, Boulder, CO; and R. Pandya
In 2004, UCAR's SOARS program, an undergraduate to graduate bridge program in the atmospheric sciences, made the decision to actively recruit students with disabilities. At first, the decision seemed daunting; it presented the need for additional funding and extra staff time as well as an augmented mentoring and support system. Despite these challenges, we found the addition of students with disabilities improved the program experience for all SOARS students as well as the larger UCAR community.

There were a number of reasons for deciding to recruit students with disabilities. First, the participation of persons with disabilities in the atmospheric sciences is lower than in the STEM workforce and in the overall US population. Second, a broader definition of inclusiveness is consistent with SOARS', UCAR's, and NSF's values and helps the program adapt to changing legal understandings of diversity. Finally, research suggests that scientific excellence is often enhanced by the addition of unique perspectives.

Some of the structures in SOARS were easily adapted to support students with disabilities. For example, the multi-dimensional mentoring allowed us to provide our students with disabilities with knowledgeable and experienced mentors from throughout the organization, including non-scientific staff with relevant personal experience. Oral presentations and the workplace were accommodated with adaptive technology.

The presentation will describe SOARS' recent experiences in recruiting, welcoming and supporting students with disabilities. We will share lessons learned and present potential research opportunities and collaborations resulting from these efforts. We will show that welcoming students with disabilities in a research program was not only doable, but led to an improvement of practices and created a learning experience for all participants. For example, SOARS protégés left the summer with a better understanding of the multiple facets of diversity and the enhanced skill in communicating with broad audiences.

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